Book Review: Yvonne Zipter’s Greyhound


 

Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound by Yvonne Zipter

Terrapin Books, 2020 

Cover art:

Tulip Greetings by Elke Vogelsang 

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor

How perfect to begin this book with “Summer Lament” in a summer of lamenting—thank you, Diane Lockward and Terrapin Books, on the timing of this book’s release—and how perfect to be reading it now!

And despite the lamentation to come, the poem begins with joy:

 

 

          Catalpa blossoms clot the sidewalk
          like too much joy
          or an explosion of faith,
          the O’s of their white,
          crinoline mouths
          a chorus of surprise.

Thank you, Yvonne Zipter, for Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, for the sticky carpet of blossoms, the dogs on the beach, even the tone of complaint, starting with “clot,” and, at the end, confusion. It all fits, it’s all welcome right now.

So is the very next poem, “And Then the Nap Takes Me,” with its accidental Covid moment (“the most pitiful of naps—/ that of the invalid”), its hint of Cole Porter, its lovable dogs, its “Voice of the Chicago Cubs” in the background. I’ve got a little breeze coming through the window as I read, also happening in the poem, and I’m absolutely there, if actually awake, “paddling toward heaven / with all the things you love.”

There are turtles and birds to love here, as well as the dogs. A stunning picture of a rattlesnake confronting a fire that left him “a spiral staircase / of ribs, making him a monument to his own valor.” In the next poem, “[w]here ] / there’s smoke, there’s / something combustible,” and it’s “Envy,” the poem’s title. I love Zipter’s ability to see the staircase in the snake, and a ribbon of smoke in an emotional state. I go back again to “Grace Lesson, “fingering the knotted rope / up her [mother’s] chest” in the lingerie store, the clerks admiring “the stitchwork / as if she were a sampler,” fitting her for a bra and a prosthetic breast. I can see and touch—and taste: “sweet but hints at tart” (an apricot)—thanks to Zipter’s careful attention to the senses, to the precise words. Anything can happen with her words: “[t]he heart is an octopus,” for instance. Or yellowjackets might swarm the heart of a dead pigeon

          as though it were
          a sticky candy,
          as though it were
          a sugared drink,
          and the spasm
          of venomous invaders
          were on the lip of fall,
          furiously sipping life,
          before, like the pigeon,
          life became undone.

On facing pages is a beautiful love song to a dog—“Exaltation”—and a beautiful love song to a woman—“Invocation.” Both poems are ecstatic, and I needed that!

My reading experience mirrored the speaker’s experience in “Anticipating This Year’s Tasmanian National Thylacine Day,” but while the poet’s “first encounter with a thylacine /…[is] in the pages of an article, / telling me it’s extinct,” mine is in the pages of this poem. “I do not take the news well, / and melancholy enfolds me,” causing me to look up the thylacine at Wikipedia and watch video of the marvelous, dog-sized creature, a marsupial with zebra stripes, a relative of the Tasmanian devil. Wouldn’t it be nice to see one, and pet one? Though it was carnivorous and wild.

So much to love and sometimes to mourn in these poems. Blessed moments of wit and humor. In the poem “Presentiment,” I laugh at the opening line, “I will die in an avalanche of books.” In “The Death I Dream Of,” it’s scarier, fiery and swift. But I like to think of the poet in “Redemption,” on a lake. “In this life, / we are parting the water.” Yes, gliding by in a kayak or canoe, gazing at heron and turtles, a white egret, a cormorant. In “Still Waters”: “You can keep your rising / from the dead,” she says, “your five thousand loaves and fishes.”

          …There is wonder enough for me
          in the slender dagger of an egret’s beak,
          its gold-ringed eye, judging me.

I’m not judging you! I’m happy to watch you “paddling toward heaven / with all the things you love.”

 

Yvonne Zipter at EIL 

[contains “Little Moon” from the book]

Elke Vogelsang at EIL 

Dog Days 2020 at EIL

[contains “Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound,” the title poem]

Mother’s Day 2020 at EIL 

[contains “Cleaning Fish, Post Lake, July 1941” from the book]

Scary Poems at EIL

[contains “Night Noise” from the book]

Terrapin Books 

Thylacine article with video at Wikipedia